Mutiny on the Bounty (fiction)

From Academic Kids

Mutiny on the Bounty is the title of a novel and several films based on the Mutiny on the Bounty, the mutiny against Lieutenant William Bligh, commanding officer of HMAV Bounty in 1789.



The 1932 novel by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall tells the story through a fictional first-person narrator by the name of Roger Byam, based on actual crew member Peter Heywood. Byam, although not one of the mutineers, remains with the Bounty after the mutiny. He subsequently returns to Tahiti, and is eventually arrested and taken back to England to face a court-martial. He, and several other members of the crew, are eventually acquitted.

Movie versions

From the novel have arisen a number of movies that deal with the mutiny, each dealing with the events of the voyage of the Bounty in different ways.

The 1933 version

The first depiction of the mutiny on the Bounty was an Australian film called In the Wake of the Bounty and it is noteworthy as the first film to introduce Errol Flynn to movie audiences. He played Fletcher Christian.

The 1935 version

The first American film Mutiny on the Bounty was a 1935 film starring Charles Laughton, Clark Gable and Franchot Tone. David Niven and James Cagney also had bit parts in the movie.

The only Oscar won by the movie was for Best Picture for its producers, Irving Thalberg and Albert Lewin, but it also received seven additional nominations:

This movie portrays Captain Bligh as an abusive villain whose cruelty towards the crew and most of the officers lead Fletcher Christian to mutiny. It contains scenes of the trials of those who had been put off the ship on the launch. It also deals with the aftermath.

However, the movie does contain a few historical inaccuracies. Captain Bligh was never on board HMS Pandora, nor was he present at the trial of the mutineers who stayed on Tahiti. At the time he was halfway around the world on a second voyage for breadfruit plants. Fletcher Christian's father had died many years before Christian's travels on board the Bounty - the movie shows the elder Christian at the trial.

The 1962 version

The second Mutiny on the Bounty movie was made in 1962 under the directorship of Lewis Milestone and starring Marlon Brando and Trevor Howard. This version did not win any Oscars but was nominated for seven:

Like the 1935 version, this movie also portrayed Captain Bligh as a cruel tyrant whose abuse lead the crew to mutiny. However the movie does not spend too much time on what happened to those in the launch after being put off the Bounty. It only shows the beginning of the voyage of the launch and then Bligh's participation in the inquiry into the mutiny in England.

This movie has the unfortunate distinction of being the least historically accurate of the films. This movie has Bligh and Fletcher meeting for the first time - in reality Bligh and Christian had sailed together before. Bligh was asleep during the initial stages of the uprising, this movie shows him as awake. Fletcher Christian dies towards the end of the film right after the discovery of Pitcairn Island. However most historical evidence shows that Fletcher lived on the island for several years before being murdered, and some even believe that he eventually returned to England some years later.

The 1984 version

In 1984, the movie The Bounty starring Anthony Hopkins as Bligh and Mel Gibson as Christian was released. The movie is set during the trial of Lt. William Bligh upon arriving home after the mutiny had occurred. In this movie, the events of the voyage up to and after the mutiny are shown as a series of flashbacks.

Bligh is not so much portrayed as a cruel tyrant in this film, but rather as a traditional ship's captain - a man of his times. While some savage beatings were carried out under Bligh's watch in this film, it seems to be in this film no different from any other captain would have done.

The crew is shown in a different light than in the previous two films. They are shown to be a much more "rough and tumble" group than the crews in the other films. Many of them are shown as typical sailors of the time. Their motivations in this film are not always as noble as in the other two films.

In this film, Fletcher Christian is a more complex character. He is shown at first as a friend of Bligh. At first Bligh thinks so much of Christian that he asks the man to sail with him for a second time. However over the course of the film both men turn against each other. The feelings become much more acrimonious after the ship leaves Tahiti after Fletcher has been forced to leave his wife behind on Tahiti. In this film, she is more of a reason that Fletcher mutinied than in the previous two films. Afterwards, Fletcher is shown as feeling remorseful because of the mutiny. He tells another mutineer that he wished he had given Bligh some muskets.

In this film, the crew is shown as having more responsibility than they did in other films. This film does not so much hold Bligh as responsible - rather it is the desire of some of the crew to go back to Tahiti. However, it does make the fact that Bligh was going to try circumnavigation as one of the reasons that some of the crew decided to mutiny.

Like the 1935 film, this version also concentrates on the trials of Bligh and those who were forced into the launch with him. It is the only film to show that one man died because of an attack by the natives of an island where the launch stopped.

Once Bligh's launch reaches a Dutch colony, his part in the story comes to an end. It shows the later voyages of the Bounty as they go to Pitcairn Island. It then goes to Bligh's trial where he is subsequently acquitted by the Admiralty.

The 1984 film was probably one of the more historically accurate of the films dealing with the Bounty. It shows both Bligh and the crew as more products of their time than anything else. This film also suggests that the motives behind the mutiny might not have been as noble as suggested in the other films. It also portrays the natives mostly nude as they would have appeared at the time of The Bounty's visit to the island (the previous films couldn't portray this because of censorship and decency concerns).

Despite the distinguished cast—including Daniel Day-Lewis and Liam Neeson in supporting roles and Laurence Olivier in a cameo appearance as Admiral Hood—the film had a tepid critical reception (the capsule review in Newsday read in its entirety as follows: "Man the bilge pumps") and was not a great commercial success.

The musical

A musical based on the same story appeared in the West End during the 1980s. It was written by and starred David Essex.

Further reading

  • Caroline Alexander, The Bounty: The True Story of the Mutiny on the Bounty, Viking Penguin, 2003, hardcover, 512 pages, ISBN 067003133X
  • William Bligh, Meuterei auf der Bounty, Erdmann Verlag Tübingen. Description of actual travel logs by W. Bligh, published 1791 and 1793 by Georg Forster and his father in Berlin as "Magazin von merkwürdigen neuen Reisebeschreibungen".

de:Meuterei auf der Bounty sv:Myteriet på Bounty


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